Voices: Shobha Pia Shamdsani

17th March 2018, Artweek

“The UAE has always embraced and celebrated contemporary artists, and has worked to develop an arts ecosystem that allows them to thrive. ”

From your experience and work at UAE Unlimited, how would you describe the Emirati art scene? And, how has this changed from a decade ago?

The UAE has long had exemplary contemporary artists, such as Hassan Sharif, Mohammed Ibrahim, and Abdullah Al Saadi and it has been encouraging to see the number of promising artists continue to grow over the years.

UAE Unlimited was established four years ago by H.H Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, with the premise of supporting Emirati and UAE-based artists. At the heart of what we do is the mandate to provide equal opportunities to artists and cultural producers in the country.

Over the last decade, I believe we have seen more experimental work emerge from the Emirati art scene, and this is something UAE Unlimited is committed to supporting and furthering.

What differentiates Emirati artists from others in the region? How will contemporary, local artists stand out amongst their peers on the global art stage?

Emirati and locally-based artists have shown their ability to stand out amongst their peers through their use of experimental and contemporary practices.

Unlike much of the MENASA region post Arab-Spring whose work is centred on politics & borders & human suffering, the young UAE artists are more interested in their own national identities and being the future generation that will contribute to the well-being of their country whilst embracing their Arab heritage. They are inspired by our visionary leaders to embrace progress in all areas, and are full of optimism for the future.

We have seen work from UAE-based artists shown across a number of art fairs, galleries and exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, New Museum in New York, Mori Museum in Tokyo and strongly featured in the most recent Venice Biennale 2017. There is a great deal of international institutional interest to acquire these works from The Guggenheim, The Tate Modern, MoMA, LACMA and others.

The UAE has always embraced and celebrated contemporary artists, and has worked to develop an arts ecosystem that allows them to thrive. UAE Unlimited places a strong emphasis on the Arabic language, incorporating it into our exhibitions where possible, and we see in many Emirati artists that this fusion of language and culture can create extraordinary pieces of work.

How does UAE Unlimited contribute to the thriving art scene and cultural growth across the Emirates?

At UAE Unlimited we believe in collaboration as a method to boost the cultural production across the country. We partner with the country’s finest organisations in each Emirate to put on an annual exhibition that pulls together leading curators, advisors and guest artists who work with selected, locally-based emerging artists. Each edition of our annual exhibition takes place in a different city, and brings together new collaborations.

In UAE Unlimited we instigated an important developmental aspect for our emerging artists, nurtured by reading groups and shared studio sessions with the curator & guest artists it encourages support for concept creation & production and we hope helps to prepare them for their future careers.

Our next exhibition, Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages, in partnership with Alserkal Programming, is our fourth exhibition. It will see ten UAE-based artists produce new works to be shown in Concrete around the theme of ‘lingua franca’ under the guidance of Curator Karim Sultan, Curatorial Advisor Laura Metzler, and our guest artists Rokni Haerizadeh Ramin Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian.

Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages opens 5 March to 1 April 2018 at Concrete, Alserkal Avenue.